By Melanie Nathan, African HRC, April 24, 2015.
After years of persecution, Mari and Cara, a lesbian couple from Angola, whose real names have been withheld to protect family members in Africa, made their way to the Bay Area, San Francisco, where they were married in an historic and moving San Francisco City Hall ceremony on Friday April 17th.
The couple, applying for asylum in the United States, are starting their new married life in America, where they can now live equally and safely.
Expressing gratitude for all the help and outpouring of love which they received in the Bay Area, California, the couple is thanking donors for making their dream possible.
Contributions in kind and in cash poured in from community and businesses, alike. While Kimpton Hotels donated a honeymoon package, others contributed their time and services.
As the Executive Director of African Human Rights Coalition, I helped to organize the wedding and fund raising at San Francisco City Hall:
“People who seek asylum in the USA to do not have legal authority to work for the first six month from the date of applying for asylum.
It usually takes a good few months to find pro bono legal representation and then more time to file the application.
So far the couple has been able to survive thanks to small cash donations and the kindness of host families in West Marin County. But they need a lot more.
We are trying to raise $6500 to rent a room, provide food and other basic need. So far we have raised 30% of our goal amount – with the fund about to close. It is my hope that when people read their story, they will be moved enough to be outraged at the persecution, and supportive of the courage and triumph.”
There was not a dry eye in City Hall as guests witnessed the moving nuptials. The couple exchanged vows under the coveted majestic arch window on the fourth floor. It seems history has been made as this same-sex couple from Angola, made history – the first lesbian asylum seeking couple to marry at San Francisco City Hall.
The marriage was officiated by renowned LGBT activist Anne Kronenberg, a political administrator, well known for her work as Harvey Milk’s campaign manager, who also posed for photos with the couple next to the famed Harvey Milk bust in the rotunda.
Kronenberg, who offered her services after hearing the couple’s story of courage and triumph, expressed:
“It was an honor to be a part of this joyous day for these two beautiful young woman. The discrimination, hatred and homophobia they faced in their own country not only from society, but from their own families was unthinkable in this day and age. They now have the opportunity to live their lives together and to be true to themselves – to be who they are, two individuals who are in love. Cara and Mari no longer have to pretend to be something or someone else. Thank you for letting me take part in this glorious day. I have had a smile on my face since they each said “I do”.”
The celebration, followed by a reception in the Castro at Destino, sponsored by African Human Rights Coalition Board member Julie Egger, was attended by members of the LGBT community, families from West Marin County who have provided host housing, a film crew led by director Tom Shepard, shooting a PBS documentary about asylum seekers and refugees from Africa, and members of the African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) which has been providing advocacy and referral services to the couple.
Members of the community have donated cash toward living expenses, as well as a wedding cake, rings, and the gorgeous outfits worn by the brides. Kimpton Hotels came forward with a generous show of support, providing a honeymoon package at the luxury Palomar Hotel, which included dinner at the fabulous restaurant, Dirty Habits. (Read more below).
Speaking after the weekend the couple expressed their gratitude:
“Our wedding was magical. It was a day we will never forget. Thank you to everyone who came to our special day and thank you to everyone who helped put our ceremony together.”
The women are receiving pro bono legal representation for their asylum application by attorneys from The Cooley Law Firm.
I hope that the community would continue to contribute to the critical support needed:
“Mari and Cara have lost everything – their home, their family, their country and livelihood. Their arrival in San Francisco, while life saving, is fraught with daunting challenges. We urge our community to come forward with donations, however small, and we also need more volunteers to offer host housing in the East Bay or San Francisco.”
LGBTI people are criminalized and suffer state sanctioned persecution in 38 African countries, a result of draconian Colonial Penal Codes, heightened anti-homosexuality laws, with dangerous homophobic provocation by American fundamentalist religious extremists.
“There are few viable mechanisms in place to help targeted LGBT people into exile and no financial or housing resources available once they reach the U.S.A. It is a miracle that Mari and Cara made it here. I believe we have a duty to take care of members of our own community – we are their family and so I am hoping many more people will step forward to help,” Nathan notes. More about the persecution and story of Mari and Cara and their harrowing journey CLICK HERE
The Fundraiser is HERE – 4 days left!! Please let us know if you can provide host accommodation or cheap room in East Bay or San Francisco.
5/15/2015. Update: Fund Closed. AHRC is always in need of donors and volunteers for new asylum seekers and programs in Africa please contact [email protected]
Photo credits: Kristina Lapinski, Marin Photographer